BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 are among the more than 300 sub-lineages of the Omicron variant circulating globally, 95 percent of which are direct descendants of BA.5, according to the WHO. In early July, BA.5 became the dominant subvariant of the coronavirus circulating in the United States, but in October it started giving way to BQ.1 and BQ.1.1. Both contain genetic mutations that make it harder for the immune system to recognize and neutralize the virus. That makes them better at infecting people in spite of immunity from vaccinations and prior infections. Evidence from France, however, where the variants caused a surge in cases, suggests they do not appear to be causing increased rates of hospitalizations and deaths, Dr Eric Topol, a genomics expert and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute in La Jolla, California, said on Twitter.
Lalita Panicker is consulting editor, views, Hindustan Times, New Delhi